Looking back at my list of titles a few days ago, it hit my just how much of my work relies on the Celts. Most of my seven novels or novellas have Celtic links, even if they’re not set in the period.
And I’m not the only one. The bookshelves are full of stories set in the Celtic past. I’ve never done a comparison of periods, but I’d bet the period is one of the most popular settings for historical fiction.
First, I’ll stress that I don’t see Celtic Britain as a bygone ‘Golden Age’, like some medieval romantics (or, dare I say it, modern authors). Life must have been unbearably hard, with harsh winters, famine, brutal lords, raids, and the like. I wouldn’t mind visiting the past for a day or so to have a look around, but I have no wish to stay there!
I can’t speak for other writers, but I can outline the reasons I choose Celtic settings.
- I know the period. I was fortunate to study the Dark Age Celts for my degree. I already loved the time, with its icons like Arthur, Vortigern and Boudicca, and the sites hidden away in dramatic places, but the degree gave me a bit more understanding of the context. That, in turn, has given me the confidence to write about the Celts.
- Celtic lore lends itself almost perfectly to the fantasy horror I write. In fact, it might even be the horror/fantasy that originally drove me toward the Celts, instead of the other way round. Celtic myth has a gentle quality not found in a lot of other traditions, and even as a child I loved Celtic myths more then those from other peoples.
- Traditionally Celtic countries haver an atmosphere different to the Middle England I was bought up in. There is something about Wales, Scotland and Ireland missing from much of England. I’ve lived in north Wales, and immediately fell in love with it.
- Art. I’ve been transfixed by some of the jewellery I’ve seen in the British Museum and the National Museum Cardiff. Work from the Early Christian period is often simply beautiful. I find it staggering how craftsmen could produce something that intricate well over a thousand years ago. The same can be said for manuscripts produced my monks in the Christian period; even after this time the originals – and I’ve been fortunate enough to see some – retain their beauty.